Lady In the Water M. Night Shyamalan

With his latest exploration of mystery, spookiness and the realm of the unknown, Night Shyamalan wants to make an allegory about the magic of storytelling, the wonderment of a good ripping yard that not only opens the doors of enlightenment but raises up a whole community of people who share it, uniting them in a common faith. Unfortunately, this narrative about the power of story comes completely without one. In fact, the only story found in Lady in the Water is a "narf” a supposedly aquatic sea creature from the "blue world”: her name is Story (played as she did in The Village as a blank, pale place-holder). She’s rescued by Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), a heavy-hearted janitor who want to help return her to her world while protecting her from large dog-like creatures whose fur is green and grassy. He deciphers a lot of hooey about narfs and their world through a wise Chinese woman who lives in his building (translated in elaborate exposition through the gum-snapping wise-cracking Westernised daughter). As the "bedtime story” unfolds, drawing in various "key” members of the building to play significant but unspecific roles (Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, Freddy Rodriguez), the philosophical hooey reaches epic and unsustainable heights. Night Shyamalan has become increasingly susceptible to his own bullshit as his work has declined since 2000’s Unbreakable; Lady In the Water manages to be even weaker and less sustainable than the execrable Village. Add to his pile of pretension that here he casts himself as Vick Ran, a writer destined to be inspired by Story the narf to write a work so epic, so masterful, so world-altering that the fabric of the universe itself will be altered. (The book, called The Cookbook, remains undiscussed — but boy, it’s gonna make everything better!) The world sins of Lady in the Water are film school 101 — show, don’t tell. Lady in the Water piles its wooden blocks higher and higher on a foundation made of shifting narrative sand. And while thankfully he eschews the "gotcha” ending upon which he’s made his name, at least that would have given the audience something, anything, to grasp as having some narrative consequence. Lady In the Water tries to convince its gullible audience of the power of story not by telling one but by telling us all about one. Not the same thing. (Warner Bros.)